Palermo hisotry 101

A brief history of Palermo for travelers

Palermo hasn’t had an easy history. Little of the 9th-century Arab city founded by the Saracens remains other than what was adapted by the broad-minded Norman and Swabian rulers like Roger II and Frederick II.

The Normans never got along with the Pope, and he seized a lull in their rule to install French Count Charles of Anjou as king.

After a 14-year stint under this hated Angevin rule, the local nobility used the incident of a French soldier insulting a Sicilian woman to rebel on Easter Tuesday of 1282, massacring every Frenchman in the city.

The bloody rebellion, which quickly spread throughout Sicily, became known as the Sicilian Vespers, since the original incident took place at the bell for the hour of vespers. With the French dispatched, Sicily offered its crown to the Spanish House of Aragon.

The six centuries of Spanish and Bourbon rule that followed were so hands-off—only one king, Charles V, ever set foot on Sicily—that aside from building some great baroque architecture, the city (and Sicily as a whole) was left to go to pot—or rather to the Mafia—creating problems that plagued Palermo right up until the turn of the millennium.

However, I'm happy to report that Palermo is now undergoing something of a renaissance.

The Palermo renaissance

The political paralysis of the Mafia years have become a thing of the past, and Palermo is shaking off its decades-long stupor. Everywhere you turn, scaffolding skittles across baroque palazzo facades, and workmen are restoring, rebuilding, and revitalizing the city.

Neighborhoods that once felt fairly dicey by day—and downright dangerous to be in after dark—have become far more welcoming. B&Bs are sprouting in the old buildings of the historic center.

Little cafes, jazz bars, performance spaces, and homey trattorie are cropping up in what were once the near-abandoned downtown neighborhoods of Albergheria and especially La Kalsa.

Now is a great time to visit Palermo.


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Tourist info

Palermo tourist office
Piazza Castelnuovo 34
tel. +39-091-605-8351

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Reid's Recommended hotels in Palermo
★★ Centrale Palace Hotel [€€]
★★ Botique B&B Vintage [€€]
★★ B&B Ai Cartari [€€]
Hotel Posta [€€]
Hotel Cortese [€€]

» More hotels in Palermo[from €30]
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